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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
October 21, 2003

Will Manifestos Change Japan's Politics?

Yotaro KOBAYASHI (Chairman of the Board, Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd.)

The Expectations of Manifestos

Mr. KobayashiIn 1993, when the Hosokawa administration took office, Japanese people held high hopes that Japan's political world will change. Ten years have passed since, and there is once again what might be a sign of a metamorphosis. One of the keywords indicating the change this time is "manifestos."

A manifesto is a package of policies announced and intended to be pursued by a political party, which is considered to be a binding contract between the administration and the public once the party forms a government. It is supposed to lay out the following three items as clearly as possible:
(i) specific targets that can be verified easily (numerical targets, timetables, financial means, etc.)
(ii) a framework to implement the policies
(iii) a schedule for realization of the policies (a road map)

The concept of a manifesto as a political tool originates in Great Britain, the country where the parliamentary cabinet system was born. This idea, brought into Japan, is expected to generate a number of important effects.

One of these effects would be to make elections more policy oriented. Manifestos enable parties to present to the voters the overview of the parties' policies and their evaluation of the existing administration's performance as material for judgment. This should result in more policy-oriented elections rather than those based on personal relations.

Another intended effect is to generate power to steer policies back to the politicians. Recently in Japan it has been common for bureaucrats to set the groundwork in drafting specific bills, and then the work of politicians would be to coordinate the clash of interests among the parties concerned. By utilizing manifestos, politicians rather than bureaucrats can take the lead role in policymaking.

Finally, the actualization of an accountable political system could at last be envisaged through manifestos. Previously there was a double structure in decision-making, as the administration had to respect the opinions of both the government and their party. This forced final political decisions to be toned down, and also made the process leading to these decisions somewhat unclear. This is one reason generations of administrations have not been able to solve Japan's long overdue fundamental issues. If the manifesto of the party winning the majority would automatically be made the manifesto of the government, this double structure could be removed.

Movement Toward Manifestos

Proposals to introduce manifestos in Japanese politics have been made by non-government bodies such as the Congressional Forum for New Japan (21 Seiki Rincho) and Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and now politicians are enthusiastically reacting to these approaches.

Last July about 60 members of the diet, most of them in the earlier stages of their political careers, gathered to form a non-partisan group to encourage parties to adopt their own manifesto. In the LDP, Prime Minister Koizumi publicly stated in July that if he were to win the presidential election of the party his policies would become the election pledge of the LDP. This statement caused quite a commotion within the party at the time, but in September Mr. Koizumi was reelected as president of the LDP by a wide margin. The new Democratic Party of Japan, created by the merger of the largest and second-largest opposition parties--the former DPJ and the Liberal Party--has already publicized its manifesto. Seeing how these movements have come about, the lower house elections scheduled in November could be the first election in our history in which manifestos will be the center of attention.

Can Manifestos Change Japan's Politics?

Will political reform that has been a major issue for so many years suddenly progress dramatically upon implementation of manifestos into Japan's political system? It is true that in Great Britain manifestos are functioning effectively, but this is due to a number of elements unique to the UK. Their political system as a whole, including selection of the party leader, has much more consistency and clarity than in Japan. Also, current Prime Minister Tony Blair had utilized this system in an integrated manner, explaining to the people how it works in plain and simple words. But manifestos by themselves are not the sole factor behind the healthy British government. With this in mind I would like to present some issues that Japan must work out in order to make manifestos more functional.

First, manifestos are only one of the many elements required for a healthy political environment. The utmost priority in the Japanese political world is restoring credibility. Credibility is a structural foundation required to enable manifestos to function properly. The key is whether politicians are able to present a reliable vision, whether these visions can then be fabricated into policies that are included in the manifestos, and whether voters can have faith that these policies are not mere pretence but will actually be carried out in reality. Given the fact that Japanese voters are said to be unaware of a candidate's policies when casting their ballots, it is meaningless to just bring in the concept of manifestos without first recovering credibility.

There also is the problem of the ability of the politicians to draw up the proper policies and lay these out to the people in a plain and simple manner. There have been proposals that a government-funded program is necessary for improving the policy planning skills of politicians, but unfortunately government subsidies to political parties were never used for this purpose. A major proportion of policy planning is still done by bureaucrats, and since the parties had seldom committed themselves in this area they now lack the ability to do this. For instance, will the LDP and the DPJ be able to respectively present manifestos with clear distinction from each other, with each component having consistency with the general concept, and will they be able to lay out these differences to the voters? Nothing will be achieved if the manifestos from each party do not make much difference to the voters.

Another issue is the governance of the parties. Will they actually be able to carry out the policies stated in their manifestos? Mr. Koizumi was reelected party president not because the LDP diet members and other party members supported his policies, but rather because they needed his popularity to win the coming election. Will the LDP really be able to put out a manifesto in this sort of state? The same can be said for the DPJ: a party in which people from different backgrounds and different beliefs have come together for the sake of mass power. Will they be able to put together a consistent manifesto and carry it out despite all the controversial voices within? Can they, furthermore, persuade the voters that they will be able to do this?

Can Manifestos be Effective?

Most people recognize and agree to the issues presented here. The point is what can be done about these problems. How can these issues be resolved to utilize manifestos in revitalizing Japanese politics, to make it more policy-oriented and politician-initiated, and to bring about an accountable political structure?

I believe that the key to solve these issues is the establishment of an effective review process of policies. Many government officials have begun to adopt the concept of "plan, do, see" or "plan, do, check, action." Although this method has been in practice in the private sector for more than 30 years, it is an encouraging development that the bureaucracy is now endorsing this idea, assuming that it will be carried out properly. The key factors here are the "see" or the "check, action" parts. Most of the policies and projects of governments in the past did not go further than the "plan" stage. Not many reached or even completed half way the "do" stage. A very small portion of projects made it to the last stage, "see" and "check," to undergo rigorous review, and then be linked to new or further "actions."

A manifesto is, in a sense, a more specific form of the "plan" stage, and should enable further understanding of the policies by voters. But for manifestos to function properly it is essential that the procedure in which policies will be carried out, evaluated, and be linked to the next step be clearly laid out, and that the parties commit themselves to it. It is also desirable that NPOs and research institutions strengthen their policy evaluation abilities and, in particular, that a much stronger authority for the budget committees of the Diet be considered.

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